I gotta be honest: When Haim were announced as the Friday night headliner for Pitchfork Music Festival 2019, I was surprised. It’s not that I dislike the trio of talented SoCal sisters; in fact, “The Wire,” from their debut album Days Were Gone, was my favorite song of 2013. It’s just that I had begun to see Haim as an artifact of that moment. They took four years to follow up Days Were Gone, and when they finally reemerged with 2017’s Something To Tell You, it seemed to come and go with a fraction of the buzz afforded their debut. The zeitgeist moved on from their particular blend of pop and classic rock tropes. As far as I could tell, public interest in Haim was on the decline.
Man was I wrong! Haim were greeted with a hero’s welcome Friday night at Chicago’s Union Park, and they absolutely deserved it. Este, Alana, and Danielle put on a virtuoso performance, affirming their status as great songwriters, instrumentalists, and entertainers and piquing my interest for LP3. They harmonized, they shredded, they gleefully enthused. They leaned into the rock ‘n’ roll side of their fluid pop-rock identity without ever ceasing to be ridiculously catchy. And between all the musical fireworks (and some literal flying sparks that rained down as special effects), in a mid-show flourish that could not possibly be more Haim, they covered not one but two songs by late ’90s VH1 mainstay Paula Cole.
As the Haim sisters explained from the stage Friday night, despite playing loads of festivals over the years, this was their first time headlining one. They threw themselves into it 100 percent. The show began and ended with the three of them bashing away at drums, and they attacked their songs with a similar gusto. Este’s bass face was back in full force, and Danielle borrowed it for some swaggering lead guitar action later in the night. Alana toggled between guitars, keyboards, and auxiliary percussion and seemed to be delighting in every moment of it. All night, the sisters cracked jokes, danced with each other, and unleashed spontaneous outbursts of joy: “I fucking love you Chicago!” The fun they were enjoying amongst themselves was contagious.
Days Are Gone classics like the smooth-yet-jittery “Falling” and the gnarly cyborg rocker “My Song 5″ flashed back to life with more vibrancy than ever. Notably, so did the brisk and urgent “Nothing’s Wrong,” the Motown-inspired “Little Of Your Love,” and other material from Something To Tell You. Upon its release, the album struck me as an inferior rehash of Haim’s debut, but clearly the songs stuck with me more than I realized because more than once I wondered if they were covering some oldie by Fleetwood Mac or Wilson Phillips only to later realize it was one of their own. “Want You Back” proved to be the anthem that got my damn hands up, and “The Wire” remains a perfectly joyous song about heartbreak, all choogling groove and noodling riffs and cascading vocals.
In the middle of the set, they pulled out stools for a stripped-down acoustic section — another first for the band, they said. After performing early EP track “Go Slow,” as promised, they treated us to their version of Paula Cole’s twilit roots-pop smash “Where Have All The Cowboys Gone?” And then, to my surprise and delight, they continued right on into Cole’s other big hit, “I Don’t Want To Wait,” otherwise known as the theme from Dawson’s Creek.
The covers were cute, but Haim’s own music is what left me beaming. Just two albums in, they’ve already built themselves a monster setlist without any clear weak spots. And near the end of the set, they offered an intriguing picture of where their sound might be headed in the future. “Summer Girl,” the new original they debuted back home in LA earlier this week, is openly indebted to Lou Reed’s “Walk On The Wild Side.” They’ve been dedicating it to Reed at shows, and the resemblance would be obvious even without the shout-out. Yet using similar raw materials, Haim have come up with their own thing, a sax-speckled hacky-sack oddity that suggests no one will be able to write off their next album as mere repetition.